Oracle defines Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware as soft partitioning, although many technologists will argue that the features and methods used in VMware are no different than those that appear in Oracle's list of hard partitioning technologies, Guarente says. "Given that this is a competitor's offering, Oracle will always consider this as a form of soft partitioning," he explains.
The one exception, he adds, is under Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud offering, which uses Hyper-V. In that case, Oracle can be deployed within a virtual machine and the customer pays only for the resources used. "The reliance is on the provider to control the size of the virtual machines," he says.
Even if the customer's software license refers to the Partitioning Policy, that document includes a note stating that the policy "is for informational purposes only," and "does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms."
So does the policy apply or not?
Guarente says when he challenged one contract based on published policy material for an organization Oracle was auditing, he received that very same response from License Management Services, Oracle's auditing group. "They came back to us and said the documents were for educational purposes only and not binding. Fascinating." That business was able to successfully defend its position with Oracle, he adds.
"It's the art of working with Oracle versus the science of compliance. It's all very muddy," Guarente says. Furthermore, the list of approved hard partitioning technologies typically does not appear within the list of documents referenced in the Oracle Software Licensing Agreement (OSLA) that customers sign, says David Blake, CEO at UpperEdge, an IT sourcing consultancy.
Nonetheless, if one follows the Oracle Partitioning Policy, every processor and core within a single physical server must be licensed for Oracle in a VMware environment, even if the Oracle software is installed or running on just one core. House of Brick's Welch tells his clients to pay to license every processor and core in that situation. "We tell everyone that Oracle is right. That policy has been there since 2002," he says.
The subcluster debate
Running Oracle on a dedicated group of servers within a vSphere cluster, sometimes referred to as a subcluster, is a different matter, however. "Oracle likes to tell prospects and customers that if they are running Oracle on any physical server within a large vSphere cluster they have to license the entire cluster for Oracle. Nothing could be further from the truth," Welch says.
"The contract states that you must license any physical server on which you have installed or are running Oracle binaries. But you don't have to license other servers in that cluster," he insists. "Amazingly, many organizations don't know that."
Welch says he has negotiated on this point many times for enterprise clients. "When we have asked Oracle auditors if they could show us where it says in writing that every server in a vSphere cluster must be licensed for Oracle they said it was an unwritten policy."
Blake concurs. "Overall, the policy does not specifically call out the cluster scenario, so we advise clients to challenge Oracle" when a request is made to license every server in a vSphere cluster, he says.